Season predictions — everyone’s got ‘em and they all stink. Here’s mine to look back on and laugh in six months (or maybe six weeks).
(* indicates a playoff team)
—It’s going to be another long year in LA
—Poor John Gibson
—Connor McDavid still stuck in neutral with a shoddy supporting cast. Such a shame, in the prime of his career he should be competing for titles
—Somewhat of a step forward, but consider the competition
4. Arizona Coyotes*
—Phil and Tocc will be right on the cusp of playoffs with a bettor’s chance of getting in
3. Calgary Flames*
—Calgary primed for another playoff appearance
2. San Jose Sharks*
—Reliable as ever, Sharks remain more talented than most the division
—Vegas is deep and loaded up to do a lot of damage. They should run away with this division and be a problem in the playoffs for whoever they meet.
—Someone has to finish last here and their defense leaves a lot to be desired if Big Buff doesn’t return
—Still a lot of work and housecleaning for Billy G to get through in order to build this team
—It’ll be between them and AZ for the last playoff spot
4. St. Louis Blues*
—Not really a “hangover” but it won’t be many points that separate the top half
3. Dallas Stars*
—Young group takes a step forward
—Addition of Matt Duchene fills huge need in the middle for an elite center
—Nathan MacKinnon should have an MVP type of season with a tremendous supporting group around him, the stars are the limit for this group
—Steve Yzerman is going to let them bottom all the way out before building back. Expecting any veteran they can trade to be dealt off as Detroit looks to endure a season of pain in order to climb in the future
—In a surprise, they’re not last! (Pretty close though)
—Still need more talent, hard to see them measuring up or passing anyone in front of them and the playoffs still look a long ways off
—Not really good, not really bad; just kinda languishing in the middle
4. Florida Panthers*
—They can’t touch the division’s heavyweights, but a return to the playoffs is in order which should be enough for now
—Putting them third because I like the other two’s goalie situations better, still will have 100+ point season
2. Boston Bruins*
—First 82 games just biding time before the inevitable BOS/TOR first round series
—Won’t hit 128 points again, but probably should win the Presidents Trophy again. Just an absolutely loaded squad. How their mentality and spirit rebounds from last year’s embarrassing sweep will be interesting to watch. Can they pick it back up like nothing ever happened?
—They lost so much talent in the off-season to free agency, and their goalie situation looks incredibly mediocre with Joonas Korpisalo (just a .907 save% in 90 career NHL games) and the total unknown of 24-year old rookie Elvis Merzlikins, which will be a huge stepdown from Sergei Bobrovsky — who has arguably been the top/most consistent goalie in the league the past 6-7 years. It’s just tough to see where the goals and points are going to come from after losing Artemi Panarin.
—As I said on the pod, this team gives me 2005-06 Pittsburgh vibes. Tons of additions like the #1 pick of a high-end, small playmaking center, a #1 defenseman, an aging power forward. The Pens all had that (Crosby, Gonchar, LeClair) and it didn’t work well. Maybe the NJD mix goes better together and they end up making a run at a playoff spot, that could totally happen. But as of now, I think they’re going to need more time to get it together, and probably an upgrade in net unless 22-year old Mackenzie Blackwood is ready for primetime.
—Barry Trotz coached teams tend to make the playoffs and get tremendous goaltending, certain statistical flukes can’t be considered unlikely when they consistently happen. However, we’ll say the luck runs out here in losing Vezina goalie Robin Lehner and replacing with the oft-injured and inconsistent Sergei Varlamov. Up front they’re deep but lack high-end options and probably won’t have a great power play either.
—Rebuilding no more, the Rangers kicked it into overdrive adding Panarin, #2 overall pick Kaapo Kakko and defenseman Jacob Trouba. We’ll leave them on the outside of the playoff bubble for now because Henrik Lundqvist is fading and the bottom half of their lineup isn’t the deepest or best at forward or defense. But it wouldn’t be surprising if their skill could keep them in the conversation right down to the wire, and possibly make the postseason if they get a few breaks along the way.
—This is my surprise pick. The Kevin Hayes contract isn’t great but his play should really help them down the middle. Philly has a lot of young players too that could be factors as th season rolls along, to go along with a veteran core that seems to make the playoffs about every other season, so we’ll bet it happens this year. About 4th through 7th in the division could be sorted any way you want it, regrettably I’ll put PHI here since I’ll guess/bet that Carter Hart could be better than anyone below them will see from goalie play. And the best part, just sneaking into the playoffs means a date with Tampa in the first round and no way the Lightning let, um, lightning strike twice, right?
—Their skaters are deep and good and they might have the best defense top to bottom in the league. I’m very wary of Petr Mrazek (.911 save% in 223 career games) and James Reimer (.900 save% last year in 36 games with FLA) manning the net. Wary enough to rank them third. If they get strong play there, it wouldn’t be shocking if they end up higher though.
—The Pens are an imperfect team, but they still have a lot of weapons that can outgun their opponents on a nightly basis. Sidney Crosby remains towards the height of his powers and Jake Guentzel is a threat. Finding help for Evgeni Malkin to get him on track remains a tall order to sort out. Defensively the team will hopefully stack and rely on their top-four who can all skate and move the puck as well as anyone’s top-four. The Athletic’s Dom Luzczyszyn ranks Pittsburgh’s fourth line as the top in the league, (while also correctly noting it’s probably not worth the cost or commitment). But that’s a later problem and having depth up front will lead to giving a lot of options to surround Crosby and Malkin with.
There’s a chance it all goes off the rails if defensive weaknesses like Erik Gudbranson and Jack Johnson are put in position to hurt the team, or if Matt Murray gets injured, but overall the Pens should still have the talent and depth to extend their league best active playoff streak.
—The Caps have won the division four straight seasons, and there’s little reason to believe this won’t be a fifth. Like Pittsburgh, they’re deep throughout the lineup and have high-end star power that will win games. A major difference between the two over the years has been health, consistency, and maintaining effort throughout the year. The Capitals don’t usually coast for weeks or months at a time like the Pens have been prone too. They’ve also stayed healthier and been steadier. Until that changes, we’re not going to predict it to change.
TB vs. PHI (lol, Tampa isn’t getting swept this time around)
BOS vs. TOR (as always)
WSH vs. FL (upset alert????)
PIT vs. CAR (would be a fun series)